NASA’s Orion capsule makes a farewell flyby of the moon

NASA's Orion capsule makes a farewell flyby of the moon
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The historic Artemis I mission, which will send an unmanned spacecraft on an unprecedented voyage around the moon, is now on the final leg of its historic journey.

Orion, as NASA’s new space capsule is called, made another flyby of the moon’s surface Monday morning, snapping images of notable lunar sites, including a few Apollo landing sites. The spacecraft then passed just 80 miles (128.7 kilometers) above the lunar surface Second close flyby of the moon.

After that, Orion started its main engine for about three and a half minutes—the longest burn performed on its voyage to date. Engine firing put the capsule on its final journey home, starting the final leg of its 25.5-day journey.

The Artemis I mission launched on November 16 in conjunction with NASA besieged and long delayed The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket launched the Orion capsule into space, cementing its status as the most powerful launch vehicle ever built. The SLS rocket’s thrust exceeded that of the Saturn V rocket that powered the moon landings in the 20th century. at 15%.

Orion separated from the rocket after reaching space and has since been on a voyage circumnavigating the moon. About a week ago, the capsule entered what it called a “distant retrograde orbit” around the Moon, allowing it to swing more than 40,000 miles (64,374 kilometers) beyond the Moon’s far side. That’s it farther than any spaceship has ever flown.

The spacecraft is now scheduled to cross the 238,900 miles (384,400 kilometers) long void between the Moon and Earth. It’s expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere on December 11, a process that creates enough pressure to heat its exterior to more than 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius).

If astronauts were on board, they would be protected by a heat shield.

NASA's Orion capsule catches a glimpse of the

Upon re-entry, Orion will be traveling at 20,000 miles per hour (32,187 kilometers per hour), or more than 26 times the speed of sound. All of that energy will be dissipated as the capsule plummets back into Earth’s dense inner atmosphere and then releases its parachutes to further slow its descent before landing in the Pacific Ocean.

All in all, the Orion capsule will have traveled more than that 1.3 million miles in space.

NASA has been preparing for this mission for more than a decade. Upon successful completion, the space agency will then attempt to select a crew for the Artemis II mission, which could launch as early as 2024. Artemis II will aim to send astronauts on a similar trajectory to Artemis I and fly around the moon but not land on its surface.

That in turn could pave the way for the Artemis III mission currently planned for a 2025 launch — and is said to put a woman and a person of color on the moon for the first time. It would also be the first human visit to the lunar surface in half a century.

The Orion spacecraft’s performance was “outstanding,” Orion program director Howard Hu told reporters last week.

The space agency had to fix a few minor issues, including an unexpected one Communications blackout that lasted almost an hour. But NASA officials said there haven’t been any major problems, and so far they’ve chalked the mission up as a resounding success.

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